New Mexico restaurants worried about reopening plans for winter

Coronavirus New Mexico

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Under the new “red to green” reopening plan, restaurants across the state are facing some of the most strict requirements in the country. KRQE News 13 spoke with some local business owners about their plans for winter.

The ‘Red-to-Green’ tiered system is aimed to allow businesses to operate with fewer restrictions depending on how their county is doing with the virus. However, as the cold weather persists this winter, restaurant owners tell KRQE News 13 they’re worried.

“This is a scary time for not just our business but for a lot of businesses, in that some business can’t even open up their door,” said Dan Garcia, Vice President and Co-owner of Garcia’s Kitchen.

Garcia’s Kitchen in Albuquerque is just one of the longtime local restaurants in New Mexico constantly adapting to restrictions and business models, trying to stay safe and afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indoor dining still prohibited in nearly every New Mexico county

“It’s a juggling act that’s hard to perform well, but we’re doing the best we can,” Garcia said. “We’re down 75% than what we used to do, so we’re barely turning the numbers to stay open, to pay our bills, to pay rents, pay the employees, food costs. We’re worried, we’re worried.”

For the past two weeks both indoor and outdoor dining was prohibited under public health orders. Beginning Wednesday, December 2, the state is moving to a county-by-county “red to green” reopen plan, depending on where each county stands with the virus.

As of Monday, November 30, 32 out of 33 counties are in the ‘red’ zone, with average test positivity rates higher than 5%.

Starting Wednesday, food and drink establishments in red counties can open at 25% capacity for outdoor dining only. Indoor dining is still prohibited.

“I gotta figure out if I can get heaters and propane,” Garcia told News 13 after the new ‘red to green’ plan was announced. “If I can’t get that, I can’t do it.”

According to the state’s public health order, any establishment serving alcohol must close by 9 p.m. each night.

“It doesn’t do any good, even if it’s 100% outside dining, because … people don’t, can’t sit outside, because it’s too cold,” said Antonio Guerrero, owner of Antonio’s ‘The Taste of Mexico’ restaurant in Taos.

Empty patio in Taos, New Mexico

“The ski valley didn’t open, so that hurt us too because you know, that’s what brings people to town,” said Guerrero. “We depend always on tourists, people here in Taos. It just hurt us like never before.”

Like other business owners, Guerrero recently had to lay off employees, and can’t rely on takeout, he says. He worries he won’t be able to stay in business through the winter.

When asked how he’d describe the mood among business owners in Taos, Guerrero responded, “Probably worry. Worry about – we’re just in the beginning of winter and this town takes usually six months of winter. You know, it just doesn’t get really warm until June sometimes. I’m sure that by January, there will be places that are going out of business.”

The Taos restaurant owner told KRQE News 13 they’ve been following all public health orders throughout the pandemic. Guerrero said he’s hoping to apply for a small business grant, but he isn’t sure if the help will come quickly enough.

Meanwhile, New Mexico Workforce Solutions is encouraging people to use its online services for unemployment insurance benefits. On Monday, Nov. 30, Workforce Solutions said more than 121,000 calls were recorded to the unemployment office before 9 a.m.

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